Jesus, come! for we invite you by Christopher Idle
Read: John chapter 2 vv 1-11
Background to the event
As well as its series of ‘I AM’ sayings, John’s Gospel is famous for his selection of ‘signs’; supernatural events which point to Jesus’ divine nature as ‘the Word’, the title introducing him in ch.1. Sometimes in reading a book, old or new, we wonder why the author wrote it. This one leaves us in no doubt, but tells in 23:30-31. John could have selected many other signs; he chose a few decisive ones to persuade his readers to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and by believing, to have life in his name.
Other questions may arise from John 2:18 and 23:26 and 30. We limit ourselves to one story, in context. The signs are central to John’s aim – and this one (he carefully tells us) is the first. Unlike some Gospel events, the scene is familiar to everyone; a wedding. But although many of us have stories of wedding disasters, not many have seen one on the scale of v.3.!
Back ground to the hymn
The hymn was written in 1979 when I was Rector of Limehouse, for the Epiphany season when ‘the revelation of Christ’ is a central theme (the Greek word ‘epiphaneia’ means ‘appearing) and John 2 is read. The event is often called ‘the wedding at Cana’ but not many wedding stories leave the bride out altogether! As often happens, I was looking for a hymn to follow my sermon; several refer to the event in passing, but hardly any make it the main subject. So I started to write something new. For me, this short and unique story always holds fresh challenge and hope.
This hymn was published in a ‘Grove’ book by Robin Leaver in 1980, and later in several hymn books. It has been set to various tunes, and at least eight musicians have composed new ones. I owe much to them, and as ever, to friends whose comments on earlier drafts led to small but telling improvements.
Studying the Bible and the hymn
Whether studying alone, with someone else, or in a group, we need both the Scripture and the hymn in front of us. Although here we work through the hymn stanzas in order we must remember which comes first! The hymn aims to illustrate the Scripture without straying from John’s purpose and priorities. It should take us back to the bible and forward with it, not away from it. Hymns are ‘servants of God’s word’. There may be more questions here than you need or have time for; or you may want to ask your own. That is fine; these are only suggestions.
The plan of the hymn
The first two words of the hymn ‘Jesus, come!’ are repeated as the start of every stanza. Each time they lead into further prayers in a series of three couplets in every verse. The final two lines are meant to reach a climax of our petition to the Son of God who is revealed here. If these opening words seem a little stark (even rude!) they are meant to be heard or sung in the light of the second line, echoing another Biblical heart-cry: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev 21:20)
Line 1: In what sense can we ‘invite’ Jesus? (Isn’t he the one who calls? – John 1.43 etc)
L.2 consists of four titles given to Jesus; how are the relevant to the events of John 2?
L.3 Some hymns use a singe place name (Eden, Emmaus, Nazareth) to set the scene. Here the name ‘Cana’ is used in this way. (Background: see also John 4:46 and 54:21-2. Cana is now known almost entirely for one thing; we could say, just for a few private family moments.)
L.4 ‘speak…’ Jesus’ few words in these verses include a question, a statement and two commands.
How might we have responded to each of these? Does he speak to us in similar ways?
L.5 Where is the need of doubting at Cana? A first draft of the hymn included the word ‘failure’, which many people feel keenly; should I have kept it in?
L6 The word ‘joy’ isn’t in John 2, but is seems a fair description. Does John 16:20 help here?
Which verses of John 2 are suggested by this verse of the hymn?
Why the secrecy? How many people knew what had happened?
How does this make it the opposite of a mere conjuring trick? Can we think of times when Jesus has blessed people who do not even know where the blessing came from? Does it matter if they never do?
‘New creation’ (line 1): if you are studying in a group, three different voices could read 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, and Revelation 21:1 and 5. What do such texts have in common?
s Why do we need a new creation; what is wrong with the old?
‘Unexpected glory’; has this ever been our experience? Where else has Jesus ‘revealed his glory’?
‘Rouse the faith’; see John 2:11. What difference did this make to their understanding or commitment? (Some at least have begun to believe, in chapter 1) What factors have helped us to believe in Jesus?
In what sense is Jesus a Sign (line 6)? Let someone remind the group of Luke 2:12.
Why do you think this miracle, unlike many, happened only once?
Stanza 4, and the hymn as a whole
What does this stanza add to the hymn?
When was our dullness last surprised by Jesus?
If Mary were here to sing it with us, are there any lines she might specially identify with?
Is there anything significant in the Scripture which is missing in the Hymn? (What about John 2:4?)
The final line: even if you read this earlier, remind yourself, or one another, of John 20:30-31.
Can you suggest a better title (for the hymn and the event) than ‘the wedding at Cana’?
Has this study helped you to say what a miracle is?
When might be a good occasion for singing the hymn?
Two final thoughts
(a) The Book of Common Prayer speaks of ‘Holy Matrimony…which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee.’ Newer liturgies mention the wedding but not the miracle. What might John think of that?
(b) John’s Gospel is described as ‘the book of signs’ followed by ‘the book of glory’. How do this event and this hymn reflect both parts?
At this point it may be possible to sing the hymn – when you have decided which tune fits best!
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